What is next? Where does one go after traveling the United States for fifteen months on a bicycle getting used to the ins and outs of the life on the road. Well I have a couple different options. I could either just go back to my everyday life and forget what I have learned and ignore the problem convincing myself that I have done enough to help. Or I could continue to step out in blind faith and walk through the door that Christ has opened for me. However, I must say, the last time I walked through a door like this it made me have to fully put my trust in something other than myself. It was by far the most tested I have ever been and faith stretching thing I have ever been exposed to. I always tell people who are not Christians, or struggling with their faith to step outside of their comfort zone and really test themselves and go against what society tells them to do because that is when Christ shows up in crazy awesome ways.
As I decide to keep moving forward in this endeavor I am choosing to rely on Jesus rather than myself, and with that some pretty kick ass doors have flung open. As I was going through Turlock, CA an old friend of mine, actually my very first camp counselor at Covenant Heights, is the head pastor at Corner Stone Covenant there. Him and I were hanging out and talking for a while and the topic of what’s next came up. I got to talking about how I want to start a nonprofit business that hires survivors of sex trafficking after they have gone through a recovery program. I want to reintegrate them back into society and teach them the basic job skills so that they can thrive in society as a normal human being.
Now once again I have a lot of time to think! I have thought a lot about many different jobs that could be helpful and educating yet not overwhelming initially all at the same time. Many ideas have crossed my path. But the best one that I will be going after is an Aquaponics farm. Now for those of you who do not know what aquaponics is well it is basically urban farming. It is combining aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (the soil-less growing of plants) that grows fish and plants together in one integrated system. The fish waste provides an organic food source for the growing plants and the plants provide a natural filter for the water the fish live in. In other words it is a cycling ecosystem to grow plants and vegetables.
The reason for an aquaponics farm is because it is relatively stress free and educational. It teaches the sparrows (survivors of sex trafficking) basic job skills in the sense of coming to work, cleaning up their designated area, taking care of a product and watching their progress from start to finish, they are working with the same people and don't have the stress of customers, and they are doing it all of their own will. It can be easy work because you are just cutting plants and reseeding, but you can also make it complicated and technical because of the chemistry you need to operate the system.
From a business stand point it is low cost with little continued overhead cost. Yes, start up can be expensive but I know that will be taken care of. Just to put some numbers out there, for a 20,000 sq ft facility we can make a system for under $10,000. However this does not include the cost of the green house which is a very wide cost range. Ideally I would like to have a glass and steel facility just so I don't have to keep pouring money into the structure. Build well the first time so we don't have to keep rebuilding.
Now some of you might be thinking, “What do you do with the vegetables, and herbs that you grow?”. Well this is where it continues to get better. One, we could sell it in a farmers market. Two, we could sell it to local restaurants who could then market themselves as a farm to table and organic restaurant, not to mention the moral boost they get from helping those in need. And or thirdly we could start up our own restaurant that then hires survivors to work it and now you have sort of a graduation system that teaches the sparrows a new set of job skills. Here you have the sparrows now working with customers, building a product effectively and pleasing to the clients, and they are working with cash flow. It does add a little more of a fast pace to the system which teaches loads of skills applicable to many situations in life.
As for the restaurant it still needs to be low stress, so we concluded that a café/ sandwich shop would be the best. First off, sandwiches are the bomb and second it is something that would use up a wide variety of vegetables that would come from the aquaponics farm. Once again, you have an ecosystem within the business itself. The café would have a little higher overhead cost but would also be cheaper to run because now we don't have to pay for the vegetables which can be a hefty cost. Or I should probably say that we are only paying a tenth of the cost for the produce through the farm since we are just buying seeds. BOOM! Also we could have a bakery within the café which could possibly lower the cost of bread and teach the sparrows another job skill.
Overall you have two businesses that are sustaining each other and you are giving people the ability to get back on their feet. Statistically 86% of victims who are brought out of sex trafficking, and are not put in a helpful program, go back into it. Our hope is to put a huge dent in this figure. We want to set in motion a hand up rather than a hand out for these men and women. We want to give them basic skills that they can use when applying for other jobs that don't involve soliciting their own bodies to make a living.
The purpose of all of this is not to make money. It is to educate and reintegrate the sparrow, giving them applicable job skills that will help further them down the road. This program is not meant to be a career job for them, but rather a stepping stone towards their new life.
Going back to Turlock, CA and the pastor there. This is where all the puzzle pieces seem to fit together so well. Greg (the pastor at Corner Stone Cov) has been dreaming of starting an aquaponics farm as well and the proceeds from it goes to help missionaries. On top of that a member of the congregation who is an entrepreneur also wanted to start an aquaponics farm. So we all sat down together at the local coffee shop and discussed the possibility of starting this. After talking for a couple hours, throwing around many great ideas, the entrepreneur offered for us to build the farm at his the airport he owns in Turlock! This would be amazing because it is gated off which gives everyone security, it is on the outskirts of town which allows the sparrows to not feel as if they are being watched all the time, and it will be much cheaper then buying our own property.
The final piece to this puzzle is the topic of housing. Where do the sparrows stay while they are working? Well, the possibilities here are endless. At the “farm” we could build rooms that are suitable for living (not the most likely options, but it is an option). We could buy an apartment complex, or a couple houses, and give them their own space while having something like a house parent that they could go to at any time. This might be a more likely option for those who are over the age of 18. The third option would be setting up host families like they do for foreign exchange students. The great part about this one is it is the most cost efficient, and a local organization in Modesto, CA called “Without Permission” is working on setting up a program like this which we could partner with very easily. Basically, how I am looking at this is seeing it as dominos all lined up in a beautifully intricate pattern and the first couple dominos have been knocked down.
How can you help with this? First and foremost is prayer. Everything and anything that we do from here on out needs to be covered in prayer because if it isn't Christ plans then it isn't our plan. Second would be connections. If you know of any people who you think would want to help with this please help them get in contact with us. Tell your friends and get them involved. Thirdly is monetarily. Obviously this is going to be a big endeavor, but I think my track records show that when I put my mind to something I get it done. Remember, together we can break the cycle.